February would have been a big month for James Dewitt Yancey, better known as die uberproducer J Dilla, this year, were he alive.
February marks both Dilla’s birthday — he’d have been 40 on Feb. 7 — and release date of his magnum opus Donuts, released shortly after his untimely death in 2006. Since 2007, hip-hop heads have marked Dilla’s memory with loving tributes held for worldwide. (The Charleston-based Dillamental live instrumental tribute, hosts shows in Charleston and Raleigh in early February.) And emcees have continued to uses Dilla’s beats and evoke his name, furthering his already significant legacy.
One of the best tributes this year, though, comes from one of Dilla’s former collaborators: Rapper Phife Dawg, erstwhile of A Tribe Called Quest. “#dearDILLA” is both touching — it opens with a soliloquy from Phife about a dream he had about sharing a hospital room with Dilla (Phife has well documented health struggles himself) — and head-nodding, Phife spitting over a jazzier rendition of Dilla’s “Hold Tight” beat from Slum Village‘s Fantastic, Vol. 2.
“Jay Dee, flip another beat for me,” Phife chants, almost like a mantra, in the chorus. Would that he could.
So, I was just browsing for records recently at Lunchbox Records in Charlotte, NC (an awesome record store, by the way) when I happened across a 7″ by a band called Cotton Candy. The clerk had written “Mark Robinson” on a sticker above the price tag, which is why I picked it up. Well, because of that and the cool artwork. Mark Robinson, as you may well know, owns Teenbeat records, home of one of my favorite defunct bands, Unrest, which Robinson also fronted. As an avid collector of all things Unrest, I must admit it had been a while since I’d been aware of any of Robinson’s creative outlets. Last time I checked in was with the stilted post-punk of Flin Flon, but even that’s been a while. So I was excited to hear what he’s been up to. Cotton Candy stays in the jangly indie pop world Robinson has inhabited on and off for two decades. His half-spoken choirboy voice leads the charge over clean guitars. The other half of Cotton Candy, Evelyn Hurley, adds equally clean backing vocals. Underpinned by stuttering electronic flutters, “Fantastic Spectacular” evolves into a strangely synthetic experimentation, replete with vocoder and spooky, muted voices. Definitely worth checking out, if you’re a fan of any of Robinson’s previous work.
The Guardian is featuring Jarvis Cocker as its guest reviewer for Singles Club this week. Well, Jarvis and his kids. He’s given a predictable mix of pop, alternative, and hip-hop. But his take on The Killers’ “The World We Live In” is hilarious and spot on:
The Killers – The World We Live In
That title is just asking for trouble: what, you’re gonna sum up the whole of human existence in 4mins 13secs are you Mr Flowers? OK, hit me. Apparently the planet we are inhabiting sounds like an ELO B-side put through a flanger. This is so bad it actually made me feel sorry for them for a minute. They seem to want success so badly and then they curl this one out and mess it all up for themselves. I used to feel a similar way about Placebo – then I discovered that they were massive in France. The boys started playing on the Wii during this.
And here’s the video for Cocker’s rough and tumble new single, “Angela”, via Rough Trade:
Trail of Dead has posted a new song on its MySpace page, “Isis Unveiled.” Yeah, so the past two Trail of Dead records have been on the lacking side, but I’m open to the idea that the band can get things back on track (despite no re-enlistment of bassist Neil Busch…ugh). “Isis Unveiled” certainly helps to that end. It’s a typically bombastic, overblown rocker with one of the band’s catchiest guitar riffs to date. Conrad Keely’s vocals seem awfully high in the mix, but that could be due to my shitty speakers at work. Full of drama, rambunctious percussion, and chaotic cymbals, the song soars, buoyed by Keely’s surprisingly strong vocal track. The breakdown recalls past musical tangents and betrays Keely’s fondness for Pink Floyd-ian pomposity. Promising, to say the least.
And Spin has an exclusive stream of “Ascending”, also off The Century of Self, out February 17, 2009 via the band’s own Richter Scale records, and it rocks even harder. I have to say I’m excited.
I’m not a very big fan of Joy Division covers. Like my compatriot over at Yo Noise, who can count the number of good Joy Division covers on one hand, I find them to be just one of those bands that can make you sound silly when you try to cover them. Needless to say, I was more than ready to dislike Hot Chip’s version of “Transmission” but found myself surprised and intrigued. Hot Chip manage to do something interesting with the song, while staying true to its inherent creepiness. The steel drums may make your whole body cringe, but the slightly bouncier beat and re-worked bassline are inarguably infectious. The vocals are masked by ghostly vocoder effects to match Ian Curtis’ distinct and natural warble. It sacrifices the original’s explosive climax for a subtler mood shift, but it works.
Not sure where About Today obtained this copy of Kelly Clarkson’s new single, “My Life Would Suck without You”, but it’s a stream-only affair. Musically, Clarkson has her tail between her legs after publicly dissing Clive Davis by insisting she knew best as to her musical direction. Whoops. The song is a blatant U-turn from angry rocker chick with a high school diary to sickly sweet commercial appeal a la Katie Perry. It’s a sausage factory reproduction of “Since You Been Gone” without the “I Will Survive”/“I am Woman” undertones. It’s written by a team of experts and was probably polled to death before final mixing. While it sounds amazing, it’s vapid, soulless pop, even for Clarkson, who made her name with at least a semblance of down-home realness. Clarkson obviously wants to be back on top, her personal musical vision be damned. Cuz, like, making mountains of money and being way famous-er is totally better.
I wasn’t too keen on A Weekend in the City, and from the sound of Bloc Party’s new single “Mercury”, streaming on the band’s official site, I’m not really itching to keep listening this time around either. I’m all for bands shifting and branching out and evolving, but Bloc Party seems to have lost the ability to write, you know, a song. This sounds like a garbled mess. Pretentious artsy-ness for pretentious artsy-ness’ sake is no fun at all. This is the sound of a band taking itself waaay too seriously.